Category Archives: How-To

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“Amping” your way to fish

Car camping is when you throw your gear into the car and hit the road.  Canoe camping is when you throw your gear into a canoe and hit the water.  How about when you throw your gear into a modern jetliner and hit the sky?  I’d call that air camping, or amping, for short.

IMG_1064I have to admit that I like to indulge in a comfy lodge every now and again.  Motels are also awfully convenient.  But camping has advantages.  It gets you right into the middle of some beautiful country, or maybe even right on the bank of a trout-filled river.  It practically eliminates lodging expenses and you can fish as early or as late as you want.

However, if you only have a week for a vacation, you probably don’t want to spend multiple days transporting your tent by car.  This is where amping shines.  Watch your supplies roll down the luggage conveyor belt and you won’t be looking at Internet images of fly fishing paradise that evening…  You’ll be actually be there instead.

Packing all your camping and fishing gear into airline-friendly packages is much less daunting that it seems.  Assuming you travel with a partner, it can be done if each person has a couple of large duffle bags.  Two checked bags per person is a fairly universal maximum for modern air travel.   Make sure they don’t exceed the airline’s size limits!  Backpacks also work but duffles accommodate bulky items with greater ease. Load two of the duffles with personal clothing and fishing stuff; let the others swallow the actual camping gear.

IMG_0656Besides clothing and personal items, here’s a list of what my girlfriend and I took the last time we did this:

  • Sleeping bags, full size pillows, and an inflatable air mattress with a foot pump.
  • An 8 X 8 nylon tent with a full fly and a ground sheet.
  • A single burner Coleman propane stove –minus the propane canister – and an electric lantern.
  • A large frying pan, a medium pot, a minimum of cooking utensils, and a small pail for carrying water.
  • A minimum of eating utensils and glasses or mugs.
  • Waders, wading boots, 2 fly rods and reels each, and one small chest pack with flies and terminal tackle.

I wouldn’t say that this is travelling light.  Notice the two full size pillows!  Although very compressible, a lot of people might do away with them. Some might also swap out the large tent for a lightweight backpacker’s model. Opting for a tiny backpacker’s stove is another way to save space.  (And maybe make room for a fully stocked vest instead of a little chest pack?) Some unlisted miscellaneous items – like a favorite travel mug – are nicely transported in a carry-on bag.   There are probably dozens of ways to compact this list.  Be sure to weigh each bag in advance to avoid surpassing weight restrictions.

Obviously, there are essential items – like food – not on the list.  To remedy this, pick up a rental car and go shopping as soon the plane lands.  Besides groceries, a cheap styrofoam cooler is a smart purchase.  Don’t forget to buy a propane canister for the stove.  Bear spray might also be a good idea, depending on your destination.  Whether bear spray or propane, airlines don’t like the idea of pressurized containers on board their planes…  And rightly so!  Empty boxes from the grocery store will make storing and organizing all the supplies inside the rental car much easier for the duration of the trip. The cooler, propane, and bear spray can often be given away before returning home.

IMG_0937We have managed to see – and fish! – some interesting parts of the continent on “amping” trips.  New Mexico, for example, has some amazing small stream fishing.  We camped on the banks of the Cimarron River, a tailwater that drains Eaglenest lake.  Most tailwaters are broad, flat rivers but the Cimarron is small, intimate, and delightfully varied.  It runs through both forest and meadow.  There are riffles, rocky runs, deep bends, and logjams.  And did I mention trout?  Both wild browns and stocked rainbows.

IMG_0950I’ve always believed that fishing quality is directly proportional to distance from an access point.  The Cimarron really challenged that idea…  One morning a chap fished the riffle right beside our campsite – something I had never even considered – and landed three wild browns on a hopper imitation.

On the same trip, we also visited the lower reaches of the Rio Hondo close to where this rocky little stream joins the Rio Grande at the bottom of the Rio Grande gorge.  Needless to say, it was an interesting descent in the car.  The stream chattered over rocks and ledges; most of its water was far too thin for trout. Nevertheless, some determined hiking led to a few good pools and very willing fish.

IMG_0935Another amping trip led us to Olympic National Park in Washington.  We pitched our tent amongst huge cedar’s and hanging moss, a stone’s throw from a gorgeous (but foggy!) beach.  It was like being on location for The Lord of the Rings.

To be honest, we didn’t have the patience to try for any Pacific Northwest summer steelhead.  Instead, we dropped in on the Queets River for sea run cutthroats.  Reading about sea run cuts told us they liked deep, snaggy, slow water.  Nevertheless, we couldn’t resist fishing the riffles and bouldered runs of the Queets.  The action was fantastic but the fish topped out at a disappointing 6 inches.  They were all rainbows without a cutthroat in the bunch.  I guess that bodes well for steelheaders in the next few years.

IMG_0888Eventually, we did find some deep water near fallen tree.  Voila!  We also found a few willing sea run cutthroat.  They were heavily spotted and covered with a silver sheen, almost devoid of color except the telltale throat slashes.

Throwing all your camping gear on a plane is an economically excellent way to explore some of those far-off waters you may be dreaming about…

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Patagonia Presents a Stoecker Ecological and Felt Soul Media Production: DamNation

Some folks see dams as a source of energy, a creator of recreation, or even the protector from seasonal floods. This can be true but during the early twentieth century there was an obsession to put a dam on any river or stream they felt could be beneficial to human progress and not considering the environmental damages that could be caused during and after the build. Thanks to the partnership of Patagonia and Felt Soul Media, they have produced this amazing video depicting the negative effects caused by dams and the impact they have on native fish populations. This video was an eye opener for everyone here at Fishwest, each and everyone of us learned something new from it and we encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it to view it.

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Mongolia: The Land Time Forgot

When folks talk about fishing in remote places for most the first thought that comes to mind  is the Alaskan bush or the back country of the North West. But there’s a place in Asia where human development and time have almost been forgotten. Most of you may have heard of Mongolia and the unique salmonid found in it’s waters. For those who haven’t heard of these creatures, they are the largest in the salmonid family, and fierce predators gorging on everything from bait fish to small mammals and birds. Here is a look at what it takes to have a chance at these incredible fish and what is being done to protect it’s habitat.

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Canadian High Mountain Lakes (Gorgeous views guaranteed! Epic fishing a possibility…)

I am not a dedicated fisher of alpine stillwaters.  I have never planned a fishing trip where these destinations were the main focus.  On the other hand, I am an enthusiastic hiker who is always on the lookout for spectacular scenery. Not surprisingly, some of the most scenic trails wind up on the shore of a high mountain lake. And I am dedicated enough to tote along my fly rod

I have to admit that the fishing on these expeditions has been largely hit and miss, with much more emphasis on the “miss” portion.  Many mountain lakes –  because of short growing seasons, limited forage, winterkill, and a lack of spawning habitat – do not support large trout populations.  Other mountain lakes have a decent trout population, but while I’m fishing, which is usually close to noon in the middle of summer, the trout are hunkered down and uninterested.

Nevertheless, if there is a lake at the end of the trail, I am going to toss a few casts.  Occasionally, it pays off, like this past summer…

My girlfriend Deb and I were in Waterton Lakes National Park in southern Alberta.  We decided to hike the Alderson-Carthew Lakes trail; the word from the Visitor Info Center was that the views were stunning and the fishing was off the charts.  We set off at 9 AM, carrying day packs loaded with rain jackets, lunch, and fishing gear.

1For the first six miles of trail, the only scenery was the forest pushing in on either side of us. It was an uphill trudge through swarms of horse flies.  When the sign for Alderson Lake came into view, we were ready to stop.  About the same time, a hiker from the opposite direction told us that the trout in Carthew Lake –3 more miles up the trail – were going crazy.  So we decided to keep going.

At this point the trail started to climb into a truly amazing alpine environment. We were soon looking down at Alderson Lake and up toward the peaks that hid Carthew Lake:

2In another hour, we were at Carthew Lake.  It was how you would hope all mountain lakes would look, especially after hiking 9 miles to get there.  Better yet, there were trout rising sporadically.  The sun was high in the sky but the lake was cold enough that the trout – and whatever they were eating – welcomed the warmth.  I threw a small Adams beyond the sun-drenched shallows to the darker, deeper water.  It was engulfed immediately.

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And so it went.  Every cast to the edge of the deep water brought an instant fish.  They were native, colorful cutthroats.  Most of them were eight  to ten inches long and a couple stretched out to twelve.  I was pleasantly surprised by the size; to be honest I was expecting hordes of stunted six inchers.

Casts that fell on the shallow, clear water were even more entertaining. Although a fly that landed on the shoreline shoal was never gobbled instantly, a cruising trout would notice it within a minute.  Then I would have the pleasure of watching the entire take.

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The trout were just as active subsurface. Deb was using a spinning rod and a tiny spoon.  At any given time, she had a fish on and two or three others chasing it.

The fishing certainly wasn’t challenging, but it sure was fun.  After about an hour, we started to make our way back down the trail.   The scenery was just as gorgeous on the way back.

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Post-Script….

A couple weeks later, we were further north in Alberta, on the road between Banff and Jasper National Parks.  We hiked into Helen Lake, a tiny tarn sitting amongst the usual array of peaks and meadows.  We left the fishing gear in the car, figuring that the lake was so tiny and so high that its fish population would be zero.  Wrong!

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From the shoreline we could see dozens of cutthroat finning through the shallows and rising with semi-regularity.  It would have been a sight-fishing dream.  The moral of the story:  Always hike with fishing gear!

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Great Days 13: Fly Fishing the Lost River

” A bad day of fishing beats a good day at work anytime” is what you commonly hear from others on the water. Although this statement is usually true it doesn’t really speak justice about the scenery and adventures we come across. Here’s a short film from our friends at Smith Optics, highlighting the fishing opportunities in the Sun Valley Region of Idaho and a little insight on what makes fly fishing so enjoyable.

 

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Loading Up The Float Tube

I used to head out on my float tube with a single outfit and one or two spare spools.  It was great in theory but I think I actually changed spools twice in about ten years.  It just seemed like way too much effort on a float tube in the middle of a lake.

These days I head out with two or three complete outfits instead. I realize that the minimalists are now groaning, but maybe the gear junkies are intrigued?  The rods get rigged on shore and whatever isn’t in my hand is lashed to the tube with a couple of Velcro ties.  Swapping one for another takes about a minute and I have no qualms about changing things up whenever the need arises.  The last trip I took for bluegills is a great example…

011It was a July evening and I launched my tube at about 6 PM.  I had a moderate action 3 weight in my hand; a clear intermediate line ran through the guides.  This is my “go to” rod for sunfish. I can’t keep piles of running line from tangling on my stripping apron, so most casts are short and the moderate action rod lends a good feel to this.   The intermediate line is effective because the sunfish are often quite shallow.

I also had a 2 weight with a floating line on board.  If the ‘gills started rising later in the evening, this stick could lay out small dries for them. My last rod was another 3 weight set up to pick off suspended fish in deep water.

That last statement might strike some people as being a bit of a contradiction.  Generally speaking, 3 weights and deep water aren’t mentioned in the same breath.  Neverthess, you can use a fast action 3 weight to deliver a home-made shooting head capable of dropping flies to depths of 10 or 12 feet. To make a shooting head like this, cut off the first 30 feet of a 5 weight sinking line (Type 3) and then attach it to 60 or 70 feet of 20 pound Amnesia with an Albright knot.  The Amnesia, naturally, is the running line and gets attached to your backing.

IMG_0494I found some fish after only about 10 minutes of prospecting.  They were in scattered submerged weeds between a couple docks.  The water was only about 4 feet deep and the intermediate line – with a scud pattern attached – worked like magic.   Jeepers, can a 9 or 10 inch bluegill pull!  They don’t run or jump, but they put an amazing bend in a light rod.  After about half a dozen tussles like that, I decided to try another spot.

I paddled up to a line of reeds growing right beside some thick, sunken cabbage.  The intermediate line had no Mojo in this location; it didn’t seem to be getting the fly deep enough into the weeds, so I pulled out the shooting head, and did my best imitation of a Bassmaster flipping a heavy jig to penetrate cover.

I had about ten feet of the sinking line outside the rod tip.   I paddled along the reeds, lobbing a micro-leech into reedy, weedy pockets.   I wouldn’t strip the fly in but simply dance it around with the rod tip before picking up and lobbing it into the next pocket.   The bluegill seemed to like this approach and several sucked in the leech.  Although usually reserved for deeper water, the shooting head proved it had a place in the shallow jungle.

IMG_0514Eventually, darkness crept in; I kept an eye open for rising fish, hoping to pull the 2 weight off the bench. Although this didn’t materialize, it was still an incredibly fun and satisfying evening….

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Here’s the outfits I carry when I’m not going after sunfish:

Perch LakeSmallmouth or largemouth bass…  I carry a Sage bass rod and a couple of 8 weights – one with a type 2 sinking line and one with a shooting head.   The bass rod, naturally, gets used for poppers around shallow cover.  The type 2 line helps me hit deeper weed beds and the shooting head – either a type 3 or type 6 – is handy for dredging.

Stillwater trout…  A 6 weight with a floating line lets me throw dries to rising fish or dangle chironomids under an indicator.  For the bulk of my stillwater trouting, I wield a  different 6 weight with an intermediate line.  Lastly, I carry the same shooting head system that I would for smallies and LMB’s.

IMG_0484Crappies… I use the same outfits that I do for bluegill.  However, I swap the 2 weight for a specialized 4 weight that delivers small poppers and gurlers.  More details about this rod are in my Pisciaphilia article called, “Canadian Fall Fishing:  Topwater Crappie Action.”

Pike…  I am often throwing BIG flies for pike.  The outfits I use are like the bass selection above but I trade a couple of 10 weights for the 8 weights.

One final note!  Be careful if you’re paddling your tube around with a couple rods hanging off the side and extending behind you.  Don’t back into anything!

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Catch & Release

L1150291Every 4 or 5 years the tropical moisture of El Nino creates monsoons in the Rocky Mountains from late July through August and possibly September during enhanced cycles. This is a good thing. Typically August is the hottest month in the northern hemisphere and daily rain cools the air temperate, increases river flows and consequently also lowers water temperate. Cold water fish species endure less stress. The downside is the rivers tend to be more turbid from muddy runoff upstream. In times of plenty, anglers should continue using good techniques for catch and release. Fish mortality increases with stress and injury.

P1090376Stress factors that will kill fish are lack of oxygen in warm water, fighting a fish to exhaustion, poor landing and keeping them too long out of water. In addition, bringing fish, such as, grayling or lake trout from deep water too quickly to the surface can be fatal. Anglers need a balance of experience and good sense. Don’t fish in low water on hot days. A fish shouldn’t be out of the water longer than anglers can hold their breath. Higher test-strength line shortens the battle. Keeping the fish in the net and in the water helps insure a long life. Wet your hands before handling fish. A dry hand can wipe the mucus or slime from the skin and increase the possibility of infection.

P1060925Injury is reduced with artificial flies and lures. A fish will suck bait in deeply. By chance if your fly is hooked deep, simply cut the line close to the hook. It will typically deteriorate. Don’t worry about losing fish with barbless hooks, just keep the line tight. They are easier to remove from the lips, mouths and cheeks. Avoid handling your catch over hard surfaces such as boats and rocks. Fish wiggle a lot and are slippery. So, keep them in the net and if possible release them from the net. Neoprene nets are better than twine and bigger baskets hold the all of the fish. With wet hands, gently place your catch in slower water, facing upstream in a river, pushing them forward and pulling back until they swim from your hands. Practice good conservation in your piscaphilia purses. All anglers want to photograph their trophy, so just hold your breath and smile.

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How Run Down Does The Man Get?

I watched the trailer for “Running Down the Man” and I was hooked.  I like wading for bonefish.  I like running for fitness. What could be better than sprinting down some beach after a large, exotic-looking roosterfish?

After a fair bit of research, I booked a trip with Grant Hartman of Baja Anglers in Los Cabos, Mexico. Out of all the guides available, he had the most experience at beach fishing for roosters. He generally does week long trips, but I nabbed him for 3 days as his prime season was winding down at the end of June.

He met me at the Cabo airport and we hopped in his pickup for the hour long drive out to Los Barriles, a small town on the East Cape of Baja – north of San Jose del Cabo on the Sea of Cortez. As we drove, Grant’s passion for roosterfish, especially on the fly and from the beach, bubbled up. He compared them to permit and maintained that even a single big one, or “grande,” in one trip was a real accomplishment

Los Barriles is a very comfortable place for tourists and visiting fishermen, with good restaurants and a variety of accommodations.  A beautiful, white sand beach stretches the town’s entire length.  Grant dropped me off at my condo at the Villas de Cortez. (Note:  On the East Cape, booking a condo through a site like HomeAway is a great alternative to a hotel room.) “See you at 9AM tomorrow and don’t forget to wear something drab,” he said.

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At 9 AM the next morning, we were in Grant’s truck again, bouncing down scenic back roads through cacti and low hills. After about 20 minutes, we pulled up at a fairly deserted beach; a couple of vacation homes were the only things around. Immediately, we started rigging up my 10 weight. Before knotting on one of his custom 10  inch long flies, Grant asked me how much backing was on my reel. “About 225 yards,” I replied confidently. “Better use this,” said Grant, and he handed me his personal reel with about 400 yards of gel-spun.

What followed was a crash course in Grant’s highly refined tactics for beach roosterfish – the approach, the cast, the retrieve, and the hook set. I’d love to describe them but I’ve been sworn to secrecy!  It was all based on wading the shallow surf and spotting the fish before it spotted you. One thing I can mention is that the line of choice was a tropical Outbound Short with an intermediate head.

The preliminaries took about half an hour and then we were walking along the beach looking for roosters. After about 15 minutes, the first one showed – a dark shape I’d get quite familiar with over the next few hours, swimming parallel to the beach and maybe 60 feet out. Grant had done a great job at prepping me but I don’t think anything can really ready you for that first shot. My running line got tangled in my feet and my fly got impaled in my pant leg; there were no more chances for that fish.

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Nevertheless, another fish showed minutes later and my second shot fared slightly better. The running line and the fly both steered clear of body parts but the latter was a disappointing 15 feet short of the target. I frantically stripped in line and started to run down the beach for another cast. And promptly tripped, tangled in the running line again.

A third rooster showed up and I finally managed a good cast – right across its line sight. The fly had absolutely no impact on the fish and it kept motoring down the beach. So I stripped in my line and sprinted to get ahead of it. The next cast was also shunned. More stripping and more sprinting led to a third cast… And a third refusal.

I was about 200 yards down the beach from my starting point, breathless and sweat-soaked. (Remember, this was Baja in the summer!)  Mercifully, the rooster had disappeared to deeper water.  Grant seemed like a speck on the horizon and I trudged toward him.

Then another fish appeared… That meant three more reps of casting, stripping, and sprinting. Now I was three hundred yards from where Grant stood. When I finally got back to him he grinned broadly, “Some good casts, bro, but I think those last three were to a milkfish…” I very quickly learned to make out the characteristic tube shapes of milkfish and ignore them.

The action was quite consistent that first day.  We visited several beaches, ranging from completely pristine to somewhat populated.  Sometimes we walked along the beach.  Sometimes we drove.  Sometimes we just waited at a likely spot.  I probably had shots at upwards of a dozen roosters.   They often just swam past me – no running required.  But some needed a burst of speed – along with the requisite heavy breathing and perspiration – to overtake the fish and get in position. Roosterfish are not like bonefish, meandering along and rooting around here and there.  Most roosterfish seem to have a pace that is unfailingly linear and brisk.

The end of the day came around 4 PM, due to the lack of a high sun for spotting fish.  I had experienced nothing but refusals, but a couple of them were spectacular…

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One “grande” – that Grant estimated at fifty pounds – broke from its flight path and closed the distance to my fly in an instant.  I stripped frantically, desperately trying to move the fly, move as fast as possible.   The rooster tracked the fly perfectly, always an inch or two behind it.  When the leader was a couple feet from entering the guides, all I could see was the mouth of the roosterfish trailing my fly.  It looked enormous, like it could swallow my fist whole.  I was on my knees in the shallow surf, trying to stay invisible to the fish.  As the leader entered the guides, the fish abruptly swam off.  I was almost shaking with excitement and didn’t even try for a second shot.

Not too long after, a rooster of about 25 pounds peeled off towards the fly and followed it from about three feet back, staying deep enough so that all I could see was a dark shape.  When the leader was almost in the guides, it accelerated towards the fly and its spiky dorsal fin, or comb, broke the surface.

To me, the comb is what gives a roosterfish rock star status. When I saw it bristling out of the water, I braced myself for a hit and thought, “Strip strike… Strip strike.”  And then the fish vanished, leaving me with no more than a permanent image of its comb in my brain.

The second day of fishing dawned much like the first.  The sun was bright, perfect for sight fishing.  But the wind was howling, making the water on the turbid side.  Grant said it would be a tough day and he was right.   We tried most of the same beaches but saw absolutely nothing.  Grant even tried teasing some from the deeper water out of a fly rod’s range. He used a nine foot spin rod to bomb a hookless surface plug about the same distance as most golfers hit a five iron.  Then danced it back into shore. My job was to throw the fly in behind the plug when it came into range. Regardless, nothing showed itself.

Finally, about an hour before quitting time, we staked out a spot where a couple near shore troughs ran towards each other and met on a shallow bar. A roosterfish swam out of one trough and onto the bar, close enough for an easy cast. Unfortunately, it ignored my fly and quickly made its way towards the blue water. This happened twice more, in quite rapid succession, before we called it a day. I had been quite discouraged but the flurry of action gave me a shot of optimism for the next day.

My third and final day looked pretty hopeful. Grant took me on an isolated highway through the mountains and the sun shone brightly. Although the road was paved, it was still very much an adventure.   We stopped to help three young locals with a flat. “Never pass anybody in need in the desert,” said Grant. Their spare wasn’t the proper size, so Grant gave them his aerosol tire sealer and inflator.

A little further up the road, sections of roadside pavement were missing. The only thing taking their place was a steep drop down a cliff. After about an hour, the “highway” transformed into a rocky track through scrub and cacti. I was glad Grant drove a 4X4. Eventually, we steered off the rocks and headed down a sandy path toward the ocean. After about 100 yards of this, we emerged onto a very isolated beach. It was rockier than those we fished the last couple of days. As well, the hills seemed to be crowding it into the ocean. Although there was one beach house off in the distance, I got the impression that we had somehow left civilization far behind.

Geographically, it seemed like an ideal place, but meteorologically, things had gone down hill. It was completely overcast and the wind was howling. The water was choppy and dirty; sight casting was impossible. To be honest, back casting was also impossible. The wind had a fierce tendency to blow my fly into the back of my head with every forward cast. The only thing I could do was lay the fly line down behind me on the beach and launch it without a backcast. (You have probably heard of water-loading a forward cast. … This was beach-loading.)

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Nonethless, Grant had me blind casting and working my way down the beach.

And then I got bit! Strip strike! Rats, I missed it… Then another hit and another miss on the same retrieve. With the next cast, 18 inches of silver torpedo rocketed half a rod length out of the chop. “Ladyfish!” yelled Grant. I grinned. It sure felt good to have a fish attached to the line.

And so went the day. The ladyfish action was incredibly entertaining and almost non-stop. Every so often we lost contact with the school; however, with a bit of moving around, we always found it again. I have now seen why ladyfish are sometimes called a poor man’s tarpon; they are amazing leapers. They are not big but they certainly are fun. Grant cut back the 10 inch roosterfish fly to a ladyfish-friendly 4 inches. “Careful,” he warned, “Roosters like to snack on ladyfish and that fly is still big enough to tempt a rooster.”

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The certainty of a jumping ladyfish and the possibility of a hulking rooster kept me busy all day. The wind and the clouds never disappeared but they did not bother me in the slightest. As we drove back to town at the end of the day, I thought about the last three days. I had not caught a roosterfish but the trip was still a success in my mind. I had seen a rooster’s comb bristle at my feet and also caught a bunch of ladyfish. For me, both were firsts…

The trip still was not quite over. The next day was spent snorkeling at Cabo Pulmo, a marine preserve south of Los Barriles. The tropical fish below the water and the stark headlands above the water were both beautiful. Even though I didn’t bring a fishing rod, I have to admit that I kept glancing around, looking for the dark shape of roosterfish gliding alongside the beach…

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Bristol Bay (A Southern Perspective)

Editors Note:  Bristol Bay Alaska is one of the most pristine wild places on this planet. As an angler and an outdoor enthusiast I hope to see this area remain unchanged for a long time to come. Organizations like Trout Unlimited are doing all they can in order to prevent this mining project from ever taking place. Its up to us to let our voice be heard in order to protect this region for future generations.  Take action by clicking HERE.  -JC

The legal term used to describe it was mineral rights.

The way it played out was like this.  A family would have a few acres in East Tennessee or Southeastern Kentucky with maybe one dwelling and a barn.  A representative for a coal company would show up and offer hard cash if the owner would sign over the mineral rights to his property.  In the poverty ridden condition that most of my ancestors lived, a city dude offering a couple of hundred dollars in cash for what might or might not be under the ground seemed like a no brainer.  A no brainer until a group from the company showed up and told these folks they had to leave because they had come to claim not what was on their property, but what was under their property.

DSCN6837Mines bored deep cavernous holes in the hillside to extract the black gold that would become a defining element of my regions contribution to the industrial revolution.  With impunity these companies worked round the clock to pull ton after ton of coal from the land.  Many of these families stayed on in mining camps where they toiled six and sometimes seven days a week raping the land they used to own.

One of the resounding effects the mines had on the region was not in what they pulled from underneath the land; it was the runoff of poisons that they polluted into the streams that flowed from the high country.  Streams that once were a water source and a provider of food ran orange and red; literally everything within them died.  Children were born with defects which were in part generated by mothers who were exposed to a myriad of caustics that invaded their bodies and in turn the bodies of their children as toxic levels of selenium, mercury, and arsenic seeped into the water table.

The financial boon filled the pockets of many, but a very small percentage of them actually lived in the area.  Workers were paid in scrip, which were just tin tokens from which to buy from the company store which inflated the prices thereby increasing their profits as well.

It took decades for this to be turned around, and in the area in which I grew up; its effects remain on a pilfered landscape, and a few streams which have yet to recover.  And it is quite possible that they will never recover.  Sometimes, the impact of industry on a landscape is too great a price to pay; it is too large a burden to risk.

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Bristol Bay Aerial View (Photo Credit: Ben Bulis)

When the subject of the pebble mine in Alaska began to surface, I felt connected.  From an environmental standpoint, I saw here in Tennessee (albeit on a much smaller scale) what could happen there and was angered to the point of action.  Sometimes, and perhaps it could be argued most of the time, the best development or industrial progress is none at all.  There comes a time when we must evaluate financial gain against the strong backdrop of what would be lost.  In most cases what would be lost, is lost forever and triggers a chain of events that will impact much more than the particular region.

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Alaskan WIlderness (Photo Credit: Ben Bulis)

Bristol Bay is a massive area that is primarily wild untouched country.  This area has been home to native Alaskan Tribes for millennia and is considered to be the largest fishery for sockeye salmon on the planet. Hundreds upon hundreds of miles in streams participate in the watershed through the Nushagak and Kvivhak rivers, and smaller streams such as the Napotoli and Stuyhok.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency began a study on the area and how a pebble mine might impact it from an ecological and environmental perspective.  This was of utmost importance to the Alaskan native tribes who have entire cultures built around the lifecycle of the salmon that call the bay home.  The study intended to evaluate the development and mining of this area be its impact while in operation (which was estimated to be between twenty and one hundred years), and the recovery and maintenance of the area after the mine had closed.

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Cockpit View (Photo Credit: Ben Bulis)

Personally, I have yet to visit Alaska, but from a distant perspective, to negatively impact a location where nearly half of the sockeye salmon in the world congregate with numbers going well above thirty million fish moving inshore to spawn is beyond a bad idea, it is criminal.  If you also take into account the other fish species that live there (lake trout, rainbow trout, Dolly Varden, grayling, pike), the sheer numbers of fish that would be effected staggers even the broadest of imaginations.  Try to wrap your mind around 200,000 rainbow trout in one watershed!

The long term economic impact would be catastrophic as entire communities who, through commercial fishing and tourism, find their subsistence would find themselves with a dwindling fish population and a constantly growing demand as well as the ever upward costs of living.  There are families who have been in an economic relationship with Bristol Bay for hundreds of years.  To fish its waters for sustenance and financial gain is all they know.  To remove or reduce it would be to (in effect) kill entire villages.

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Alaska’s Wild Waters (Photo Credit: Save Bristol Bay)

The E.P.A. assessment states that up to 94 miles of streams would be completely lost because of their location in relation to the mine footprint.  94 miles!  Can you imagine how many fish would just vanish forever?

The E.P.A. report goes on to state that reduced food resources would result in the death of many streams outside the footprint due to the loss of organic material, a reduction in winter fish habitat and by nature of design, reduce or remove vital spawning areas.

The blow that would be dealt to creatures such as the storied brown bear, or the bald eagle would also be irreparable.  A reduction in food, a reduction in habitat, and once again a reduction in the local economy and way of life.

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Sockeye School (Photo Credit: Save Bristol Bay)

When do we say enough?  When do we finally realize that once a fragile thread like Bristol Bay is severed, it is highly likely that it will not be mendable?  When do we stand and say that not only is it a bad idea for the wildlife, it is a bad idea for the people?  When do we stop and take a position that does not approve in any shape, form, or fashion the potential health risks involved in a huge mining operation?  When do we finally realize that clean water impacts every person on this planet, and that wild places need to remain wild places?

Hopefully, that time is now.

Backcountry NI

Destination Fishing: New Zealand’s North Island

With fall approaching and the summer season ending our minds here at Fishwest have been wandering towards fishing destinations around the world. As the season is starting to cool off here it’s about to heat up in the southern hemisphere. The crew at Gin-Clear Media has put together another great video highlighting the great fishing opportunities found in New Zealand.